Monday 2 March 2020

The Forest of Wool and Steel | Natsu Miyashita #JPNfiction

I wanted to love The Forest of Wool and Steel far more than I did in the end. 

A coming-of-age story about a piano tuner from a remote mountain region in Hokkaido had all the right ingredients for me - one as a former (very amateur) piano enthusiast and two, as a recent visitor to Japan. It was beautifully, elegantly written, with gorgeous chapter illustrations showing a piano slowly being returned to the wild. Nature, naturalness and nurturing were ideas that ran through the piece. It's tone was pianissimo (softly, softly), it's tempo larghissimo (as slow as possible).

I'm beginning to realise that even though I like the practice and philosophy of Zen, it's not enough for me in a story. I prefer richer, epic, detailed narratives - something I can really sink my teeth into.
I've been slow in working out that I prefer my Japanese Lit with a twist of magic realism and a decent dose of kookiness. Think Banana Yoshimoto and Haruki Murakami, my two favourite Japanese writers to date. The Forest of Wool and Steel was simply too sedate for me!

Despite the lovely, lovely passages about music, listening, tone and nuance, I was never really fully engaged in the story. The emotional heart alluded me. The story failed to take flight or go anywhere.

  • Published in Japan 2016 as Hitsuji to Hagane no Mori
  • Made into a movie in Japan in 2018.
  • Translated in to English 2019 by Philip Gabriel (who also translated most of Murakami's books).
  • Winner of the 2016 National Booksellers Award.

Sadly, I had the same problem with Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami, but in this case I was unable to finish the book. I simply didn't care enough about either of the protagonists to continue. Which is odd, as stories about loneliness and being alone are ones that generally draw me in. Perhaps the trick with stories about disconnection is not to disconnect your readers! Odd-ball romances have never really been my thing either.

I have since heard that Kawakami finished the book with a twist of magic realism, which is intriguing, but not enough in my current reading frame of mind to make me pick it up again. If I hadn't just finished a wonderful #slowread experience with Moby-Dick, I might be concerned that my modern technology brain has changed too much to appreciate a more gentle paced meandering story.

  • Published in Japan 2001 as Sensei no kaban.
  • Translated by Allison Markin Powell in 2017
  • Published as The Briefcase in the US in 2012.
  • Shortlisted for the 2013 Man Asian Literary Prize.
Both books were read (or not) for Meredith's Japanese Literature Challenge 13.

My other Japanese Lit reads  over the years:


  1. I have not read a lot of Japanese literature, howver, saw a review for The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa which attracted my attention. I will try it out. Maybe something for you as well.

    1. I adored The Travelling Cat Chronicles and would highly recommend it Lisbeth!
      Your comment has encouraged me to add a list of my reviews, to the post above, that feature Japanese Lit books :-)

  2. I bought this as soon as I read that it was the book most recommended by Japanese book sellers to put into their customers’ hands. I have not read it yet, and am now waylaid by the Booker International Prize long list, but I will! And, I do mean to get back to Moby Dick. Congratulations on finishing it! I am 3/4 of the way through, and I will finish it, if only to add my name to your list as you hosted us. And, I did thoroughly enjoy what I read. Enjoy is not the right word; it is very, very powerful in story, scope and meaning.

    1. I do now wonder if I had savoured The Forest of Wool and Steel a chapter a day, if I might have appreciated it more. It seemed like not much was happening, but if I had #slowread it maybe the pacing would have felt more in tune with the story....

      I hope you finish Moby-Dick, so we can hear your final thoughts on it.


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